Director of New Richard Gere Film Beats Producer in Nasty Lawsuit

Nicholas Jarecki, the writer and director of the forthcoming film Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, has scored a big win against a producer who was accused of attempting to hijack his film during its making by claiming joint authorship. On Thursday, a Los Angeles District Court judge proclaimed Jarecki to be the sole author of the film about a troubled hedge fund magnate who gets caught in a tricky financial situation. 

In March, Jarecki filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that just because Michael Ohoven at Infinity Media provided some material support to finance, develop and produce Arbitrage, Ohoven shouldn't own part of the script's copyright.

Ohoven's credits include producing such films as CapoteSaved! and The Devil's Rejects. The producer responded by filing his own lawsuit against the director for allegedly breaching an oral contract, not honoring a covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and tortiously misrepresented himself in dealings over Arbitrage.

The dispute centers around the relationship between Jarecki and Ohoven back when Arbitrage got off the ground. Ohoven believed that he was set to play a big part in producing the film, so he engaged sales agents and casting agents to make it happen. He even retained a consultant, Kevin Turen, to help out on the script. Ohoven also presented Jarecki's lawyers with a standard Option Agreement to acquire rights in the film under discussed terms, but no formal written contract was ever signed.
By the end of 2010, the director and the producer had a falling out over the shooting location, and Jarecki called off their relationship.

Ohoven responded by having his lawyers send a letter to Jarecki's reps contending he had the exclusive right to produce and distribute the film, and that he was a co-author and co-owner of the screenplay by virtue of contributions purportedly made by Turen on Infinity's behalf.

That's when the parties filed dueling lawsuits.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles District Court Judge Gary Feess denied Ohoven's motion to dismiss the case, finding that Ohoven had made an explicit threat that had created a reasonable apprehension on Jarecki's part that he would face a lawsuit regarding the rights to the screenplay. The judge said that Jarecki had rightfully pursued a declaratory judgment.

On Thursday, that's just what Judge Feess gave Jarecki in a summary judgment that declared him to be the sole author.

The judge heard testimony from Turan, who said he only gave some script feedback and that he wasn't really contracted by Infinity. Thus, according to the judge, Infinity has "not put forth any evidence raising a triable issue of fact on the elements of joint authorship. Plaintiff has accordingly met his burden to show that the undisputed facts establish that Defendants hold no copyright interests in the Screenplay—or, derivatively, in the Film—and that the Screenplay is not a joint work."

Jarecki's next move is two-fold. We hear his lawyer plans to file a motion demanding that Ohoven pay his legal fees. On Ohoven's still-pending breach of contract claim, Jarecki is going to argue that claim is preempted by federal copyright law.

It's beginning to look like art imitates life: Just as in the Arbitrage film itself, a man gets into a tricky financial situation and finds help to navigate out of it.


Twitter: @eriqgardner